Jen Gobby, More Powerful Together: Conversations with Climate Activists and Indigenous Land Defenders, Fernwood, Winnipeg, MB, 2020. 250 pp. $26.00. ISBN: 9781773632513.
The week before the Global Climate Strike in September 2019, a group of several hundred youth gathered on the steps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and staged a “die-in.” I listened from the sidelines as the young organizers spoke passionately and strongly about their grief, fear, and anger over facing a world changing rapidly from climate change. They invited the adults standing to the side to participate with them as they symbolically lay down on the steps and “died.” As rain fell from the sky, we lay down on the ground, but one young Indigenous activist stayed standing, fist in the air. The young activist called out, “I’m standing here because I’m not dying. I refuse to die. My ancestors fought so hard for me to be here. Indigenous people are never going to die. We’re going to stay here and fight for our lands, no matter what it takes.” For seven minutes, representing seven generations into the future, we lay in silence, contemplating those words, lamenting the hurting planet and the uncertain futures these young people face. When the seven minutes were over, we rose up, singing hopeful songs.
The youth die-in was a profound and powerful instance of people from many generations coming together to insist on change. It was an important reminder for me that in the fight against climate change, it isn’t simply the earth and its plants and creatures that we advocate for but also the lives and livelihoods of people all over the world, especially those on the margins. With these thoughts in mind, I joined the climate strike the next week, which drew over ten thousand people in Winnipeg and millions around the world.
Jen Gobby’s book More Powerful Together opens with a vivid description of her experience at the Global Climate Strike in Montreal. She describes her excitement, the optimism of the crowd, and the lingering feelings of hope after the event. She then describes finding out that Indigenous activists had experienced racism and violence from non-Indigenous people attending the protest. Gobby recounts being surprised but reflects that perhaps she shouldn’t have been. The climate strike in Montreal ended up being a microcosm of the wider world. Racism, colonialism, and other forms of domination are playing themselves out in social movement spaces as they are in many other parts of life, rendering the work ineffective at best and incredibly damaging at worst. The antidote, Gobby writes, is to work toward creating a “movement of movements” in which diversity and collaboration have the power to create “decarbonized and decolonized . . . systems” in Canada (6).
To construct her argument, Gobby interviews activists and Indigenous land defenders. She also provides a thorough review of the scholarly literature on climate change, inequality, social movements, and social change. Gobby presents a strong overview of the climate and inequality crises in Canada and the social movements that have surfaced to address them. The people she interviews identify settler colonialism, capitalism, and worldviews that justify domination, as the root causes of these crises. These root causes “have bred systemic disconnection from land and from each other, cutting us off from the knowledge and relations we need to get ourselves out of this mess” (54).
After envisioning alternatives to those systems of destruction, and taking stock of what is working and what isn’t working in environmental movements today, Gobby discusses how to overcome the various barriers that are hindering movement efficacy and transformation. The most significant barriers are the relational tensions within and between movements, which lead to siloing and fragmentation. She writes, “damaged relationships hinder our ability to think across difference and forge powerful alliances strong enough to radically transform our world from one of destruction of people and planet to one of healing, justice and mutual flourishing” (179). The solution, she posits, is that “strong, just relations are the means and ends of building a better, climate safe world” (6). Gobby concludes that it is through working better together and through building relationships based on “justice, equality and reciprocity” with each other and with the land that we will gain a truly transformative ability to create such changes (214).
More Powerful Together is a timely and important book for anyone looking to learn about how change can happen. This book was an important reminder to me, as someone who works in environmental education and conservation, to consider how forms of domination may be present within the work I am doing. Gobby, and many of the people she interviews, state that it is not enough to address only ecological crises; we must also learn to see that social crises are deeply interrelated with ecological crises. Gobby argues that both ecological and social crises “are symptoms of a deeper pattern of dysfunctional relationship based on domination” (10).
As the climate movement has become more mainstream, many Christians have become interested in the environment and involved in creation care efforts. Yet, in my experience, it is rare to hear about creation care efforts that also seek to address the damages done by colonial and capitalist systems. Many in the church, myself included, benefit from these systems in the form of wealth, access to land, and/or positions of privilege. That makes it difficult to confront the ways that colonialism, racism, and other forms of oppression are present within our churches.
Gobby’s book makes it clear that we cannot afford to continue to relate to each other and the earth in the ways we have been relating. She also makes it clear that everyone has a role to play. Anabaptists have a long history of resisting state-sanctioned violence and status quo relations. Might it be possible to step into those roots again and work toward a decarbonized and decolonized church and world? More Powerful Together offers us practical ways of moving in that direction.
Zoe Matties is a Mennonite settler living in the Red River Watershed and Treaty One Territory. She works for A Rocha Canada as Manitoba Program Manager.